Residents in Cagayan de Oro flee their homes as Typhoon Bopha makes landfall

By Afrhill Rances in Manila

Typhoon Bopha – locally known as Pablo – made landfall early morning of 4 December in Baganga, Davao Oriental province, on the east coast of the Philippine island of Mindanao. The category four typhoon, which brought winds of 175kph with gusts of up to 210kph, is currently tracking across provinces in the upper half of Mindanao. Bopha is expected to leave a trail of destruction in its wake.

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) 53,000 people are currently sheltering in 94 temporary evacuation centers. Damage is expected to homes, livelihoods and infrastructure. Reports from affected provinces and cities in Mindanao indicate that electricity supplies have been disrupted in some areas, scores of flights have been grounded and sea vessels confined to port, leaving thousands stranded.

In response, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is preparing to launch an emergency appeal for funding to help the Philippine Red Cross assist families that have been directly affected by the storm with immediate food and non-food relief, together with longer term help to support their recovery with water and sanitation systems, cash grants and materials to rebuild homes.

Speaking from Cagayan de Oro City, IFRC relief delegate Alexandre Mikadze said that it had been raining heavily throughout the day and downtown areas of the city had seen some flooding. “The rain coming down from the mountains has caused the rivers to run high and fast. This is when we face a real threat from flash floods and landslides,” he said.

Approximately 1,500 families are seeking temporary shelter at a mall parking lot in Cagayan de Oro City, one of the areas hardest hit by Tropical Storm Washi which swept through in December 2011. Most of the evacuees came from low-lying areas of the city, near bodies of water where there is an increased risk of flash floods and landslides.

Charisa Bacuyo, 26, took advice to evacuate the area seriously, leaving her home with two children. “We came here with whatever belongings we could pack, to spare ourselves of ‘worst’ in case this new typhoon lashes the city again,” she said.

“During the previous storm, the flooding came in the middle of the night and it was difficult to evacuate. I won’t let this new typhoon take anyone from me by not being prepared. When we found out that this area will be open as an evacuation centre, I immediately rushed to bring my children and husband here,” she said.

Since Typhoon Washi, the Philippine Red Cross – with support from the IFRC – has helped over 600 families construct new homes after they were destroyed in the storm. Charisa is one of thousands who are still trying to get back on their feet since Washi struck. She had to leave her new home and hopes that it will be safe from the effects of Bopha.

The Philippine Red Cross began preparations for responding to the humanitarian impact of the typhoon well in advance and has been monitoring the typhoon since the day it was sighted. Through its operations centre, it has constantly communicated with chapters particularly those located along the expected typhoon path including Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental, Gingoog, Iligan, Leyte, Misamis Oriental – Cagayan de Oro, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur. Volunteers and rescue teams were put on standby, with support vehicles and equipment such as rubber boats and ambulances readied for deployment.

“It is unfortunate that almost the same areas affected by Tropical Storm Washi in 2011 will be hit again by Typhoon Bopha, but we made sure that our chapters are more prepared this time,” said Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of Philippine Red Cross. “Days before the storm we have put volunteers and first responders on standby in case of any eventuality and we had relief stocks in place.”

The organization has supported pre-emptive evacuations ordered by disaster authorities. Davao Oriental chapter has already assisted in evacuating families from two villages located near the coastal area while Iligan chapter has put up help desks in the first established evacuation centre to assist affected families.